Women's qualifying wrap: Bogdan blows match points, teenagers shine

  • David Cox

It was a day for the teenagers at the Australian Open, as Ann Li stunned top seed Ana Bogdan to qualify for the main draw while Cat McNally and Leylah Fernandez progressed to the final round with impressive wins.

Li, the 2017 Wimbledon girls’ runner-up and No.31 seed in qualifying at Melbourne Park, showcased her considerable talent by defeating the experienced Bogdan 5-7 7-6(9) 6-2, staving off two match points in the second set tiebreak.

In a contest which lasted well over two hours, the pair cut contrasting figures throughout. The pugnacious Bogdan stalked the baseline, exhaling loudly with every shot, and glowering at her corner after misses. Such displays of emotion were few and far between from the placid Li, whose only outward show of disappointment after losing a tight first set was a head shake so miniscule, it barely registered.

MORE: Full qualifying results

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Canada's Leylah Fernandez was too strong for Japan’s Maya Hibi

“It’s a little bit of my personality,” laughed Li afterwards. “I’m usually pretty chilled. I just tried to stay calm and really to play my game, execute well and move her, and I think I did that pretty well. Maybe I should make a little more noise next time!”

While Bogdan was determined to slug her way out of trouble, it was her 19-year-old opponent’s variety ultimately wore her down. Li expertly mixed up her serves and groundstrokes, disrupting the Romanian’s rhythm with subtle changes of spin, and pulling off some fearless shot making when she needed it most.

“It was a crazy match,” said Li. “The energy in the crowd was unbelievable, it really helped me, especially pulling through that second set. When she had those match points, I just told myself, I’m going to hit the best serve of my life right here. And then physically I feel pretty strong, so I knew I could last a long time out there.”

MORE: Full women’s qualifying draw

Joining her are fellow qualifiers Shelly Rogers, Harriet Dart, and Martina Trevisan. The latter defeated Eugenie Bouchard 6-4 6-3 to ensure that the Canadian will not feature in the Australian Open main draw for the first time since 2013.

MORE: Men's wrap: Purcell punches main draw ticket

Tomorrow, McNally and Fernandez will get their own chances to book a place in the women’s singles at Melbourne Park.

Still just 17 years old and competing in her first Grand Slam as a professional, the left-handed Fernandez cuts a delicate figure compared to her fellow competitors in qualifying, many of whom are a decade older.

However, she makes up for her relative lack of firepower with an intelligence and skilful court craft which belies her tender years. On Court 5, she ran out a 6-4 6-4 winner against Japan’s Maya Hibi, a wily player who provided plenty of challenges for the youngster through her unorthodox game which revolves around guiding the ball into space, rather than giving it the customary wallop.
 

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Cat McNally has progressed to the final round

“She’s a very different player,” said Fernandez afterwards.

“She doesn’t give you any rhythm, so I just had to adapt from the first point, but I was happy I was able to find solutions. It’s very special to me to be able to play here in the women’s draw. Just seeing players like Nadal, Federer, Serena, Wozniacki who’ve won here in the past and seeing them practise and adapt on court is great and has helped me a lot today and the other matches.”

There was considerably more brawn on display in the clash between No.10 seed McNally and Ukrainian Daria Lopatetska, two athletic, powerful players capable of blasting winners as well as tracking them down.

McNally, one of the tour’s upcoming talents and the oft-time doubles partner of Coco Gauff, was the steadier of the two, using her slice effectively throughout as she sealed a 6-2 6-3 win.

“She’s a really, really good player and I think we’re going to see a lot more of her,” she said. “I think the slice throws a lot of girls off and I’m very fortunate to have that in my toolkit. Some people can only hit flat. I struggled physically a bit in my first round win, so I’m really happy with the way I was able to play and compete.”